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Nkemdiche sits again against Bills

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2016 – 8:32 am

No surprises on the Cardinals’ inactive list for the game against the Bills. Rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, battling an ankle and a deep defensive line room, will sit out the game. Although it is interesting that the Cards, with nine defensive linemen on the roster, will have four of them inactive.

Meanwhile, the Bills won’t have wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who has a bad foot, and won’t have receiver Greg Salas either or cornerback Ronald Darby.

The full inactive list for the Cards:

— S Marqui Christian

— G Evan Mathis (toe)

— LB Kareem Martin (knee)

— DT Frostee Rucker (knee)

— DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Xavier Williams


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Fitz’s lone shutout, Friday before the Bills

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2016 – 2:30 pm

Larry Fitzgerald did not catch a pass, and that was only the beginning of the brutality that was the Cardinals’ last trip to Buffalo.

It was way (way) back in Fitz’s rookie year of 2004. It was Denny Green’s first season. Anquan Boldin was coming back that day after missing the first six games with a knee injury suffered in training camp. Boldin had four catches for 50 yards. Fitz, alas, was shut out – the only time in his career he has not caught a pass in a game.

“That was probably the first time in my life I didn’t catch a ball,” said Fitzgerald, whose consecutive-games-with-a-catch streak is at 181. “Ever since I started playing football. There’s a first for everything.”

(Fitz did have a rushing attempt, for four yards.)

Of course, there weren’t many completions, period. Josh McCown completed just 9-of-24 passes, Drew Bledsoe just 8-of-17, as the teams played in nasty winds up to 30 miles an hour plus rain. It was a joy to watch. (It ended with a 38-14 Bills win).

The weather isn’t supposed to be bad Sunday. The temperatures will be mild, the sun is supposed to be out, the wind at a minimum. And of course, Fitz is playing with a team 12 years later that is light years better than that group that went to New York.

— No Evan Mathis this week, cut down by the dreaded turf toe. Earl Watford gets the start in his place. That’s an interesting development, in part because …

— Sunday will be a big test for right tackle D.J. Humphries. The defense played by the Ryan brothers usually features high-pressure from the outside. Do they go after Humphries? Goodwin said Humphries is doing better, although he noted there were mental lapses both against the Buccaneers and in practice this week. “He is always going to feel the pressure from me and coach (Arians),” Goodwin said.

Now you have Watford and Humphries on the right side of the line without Mathis.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on his reaction after hearing Bruce Arians accepting the blame for the zone-first defensive philosophy in the Patriots loss: “The first thing I thought was, we needed to tackle better in that game … our communication wasn’t good enough.”

“I love coach’s input,” Bettcher added. “He is one of the smartest men I have ever worked around. Not only is he the best head coach in the National Football League, he is a smart, smart football coach.”

— The Cardinals have yet to turn the ball over. Carson Palmer should have been picked a couple of times so far – the drop by Bucs CB Brent Grimes on the bad route by David Johnson last week the most memorable – but overall the QB has been good protecting the ball. In an offense like this, where the passing game will go down the field, a minimum of interceptions is impressive.

“Experience is one thing,” Palmer said in his explanation why. “You know when to take your shots. You know whether it’s the right type of third-down situation to be in, the right time of the game. You’ve got to be smart.

“(Interceptions are) going to happen. You try to avoid them as long as you can and when they do happen, you bounce back and go down and score on the next drive. That’s something that I pride myself on.”

— While Arians said the cornerback spot across from Patrick Peterson would be shared work-wise between Marcus Cooper and Brandon Williams, Bettcher said whoever had the better week of practice was going to earn the playing time Sunday.

— As we go, don’t discount the idea that newcomer Tharold Simon could also start to get some defensive snaps at cornerback.

— Former Cardinals linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, now 33 years old, is starting in Buffalo and has 1½ sacks and nine tackles in two games, plus a forced fumble and tackle for loss. “Lorenzo is playing really, really well,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “He’s got a sack and a half and he’s missed two or three. Just missed.”

— So far, Markus Golden is keeping up with the higher-profile Chandler Jones in sacks. Both have two in two games. Golden shrugged off his pace, but admitted he’ll be looking at it at season’s end.

“At the end of the year, of course, numbers mean something to everybody,” Golden said. “You want to do stuff people didn’t think you could do, so of course the numbers matter, but I feel like if you compete at the high level and play to win, you’ll get the numbers no matter what.

“Just got to keep hunting.”

Buffalo awaits.

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Arians believes in his brutal honesty

Posted by Darren Urban on September 22, 2016 – 12:48 pm

In case anyone hasn’t been paying attention yet this season, Bruce Arians has never been shy of being blunt (including with himself.) It’s been apparent since the day he arrived, and I have noted before how amazing it has been to watch a coach who can be so hard on a player on the practice field and be able to let it go moments later. He makes his point, and then it’s over.

“Because I think guys like honesty,” Arians said. “If it’s brutal, it’s still honest.”

Arians said when he walked in the door he just wanted to be straightforward with players. He threw some people this week when he publicly called out David Johnson (never forget, Arians doesn’t say anything publicly he hasn’t already said privately.) But Johnson was on the same page with his coach, lamenting missed opportunities when it looked like Johnson had played pretty well. He has said things about Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Calais Campbell. It’s hard not to think of a player who didn’t get mentioned in such a way since Arians arrived in 2013.

And like his need for honesty, there really isn’t any subtext to Arians’ callouts.

“The method is to get guys to do the right thing,” Palmer said.  I don’t think it’s a motivational thing. I know it’s not to prove a point like, ‘I can yell at anybody.’ It’s he expects it to be done right, whether it’s David, Andre (Ellington), Chris (Johnson), myself, Larry, whoever it is. He expects things done right and when they’re not, he’s not subtle about it. You’re going to find out.”

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Arians takes blame, “Bettch took a bullet”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2016 – 9:52 am

The Cardinals were better defensively against the Buccaneers — NFL.com’s NextGenStats had them blitzing more than 43 percent of the snaps, highest in the league, against Tampa Bay — and Bruce Arians was happy about that. The Cardinals played a lot of zone the previous week against the Patriots, and Arians wasn’t happy about that. Especially since it was his call.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said last week the breakdowns “start with me.” But the defense was better in Week 2, Arians said, because “I got out of it.”

“I got too involved in the New England (defensive) gameplan,” Arians said on Sirius XM NFL radio. “That’s not my forte. Bettch took a bullet for playing more zone than we normally play. I had a lot to do with that. It was my mistake. We were playing our style of defense (against Tampa).”

Here’s a guess the Cardinals will stay aggressive defensively. Arians certainly didn’t sound like he’d be delving back too deep into the defensive gameplan anytime soon.

“It’s happened once and it didn’t go too well,” Arians said.

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“Best thing” for Cards now — turnover margin

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2016 – 11:33 am

Bruce Arians may have been a little salty about how the offense played in the Cardinals’ win Sunday, but he has left no doubt how he feels about the team’s turnover margin. “That’s probably the best thing we’re doing right now,” Arians said. Then again, how could he not see it that way?

Yes, there have been a couple of near-picks for quarterback Carson Palmer, but they have not been picks. So after two games, the Cardinals have yet to turn it over, and have amassed seven turnovers themselves — four interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. Math and the law of averages says the fumbles won’t always bounce the Cards way, but they aren’t putting the ball on the ground themselves.

Right now, they lead the league in takeaways (Carolina, Minnesota and San Francisco each have six) and lead in turnover differential (two ahead of the Vikings’ plus-5.) Oakland and Philadelphia are the other two teams without a turnover yet.

The Cardinals were second in the league in takeaways last season with 33, and they are doing it right now without one of their dynamic back-end players playing at full Honey Badger. That’s a good sign. Another good sign? The only other time the Cards went the first two games without turning the ball in the first two games of the season since 1940 was 2008 — the year the franchise reached the Super Bowl.

(OK, as coincidences go, it’s a stretch. But we’ll see.)

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Nkemdiche still has much work to do

Posted by Darren Urban on September 19, 2016 – 2:59 pm

Rookie Robert Nkemdiche was injured late last week in practice, tweaking the same ankle that kept him out of a good chunk of training camp. The hope is that he’ll be able to work again in practice this week, but even if he does, coach Bruce Arians didn’t sound like someone who would automatically just drop the team’s No. 1 pick back into the defensive line rotation.

“Those other guys are playing pretty damn good,” Arians said Monday.

Yes, the ankle was a problem when he hurt it Friday. But Arians noted that “it wasn’t the best week of practice for him” anyway.

“There’s too much competition in that (defensive line) room to have a bad day and dress out and play on Sunday,” Arians said.

The hope is still that Nkemdiche will find a rhythm and make an impact on the rotation. Who knows, it may be as soon as this weekend in Buffalo. But it’s becoming clear that Arians is going to keep the pedal pressed in pushing the big defensive lineman. And as the Cardinals and Arians proved last year with No. 1 draft pick D.J. Humphries, they are not shy of keeping even a top draft pick from active duty on game days if it makes better sense to use someone else. There’s little question Nkemdiche is going to have to earn his time, regardless of his ankle woes.

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Keim: Cooper took advantage of opportunity

Posted by Darren Urban on September 19, 2016 – 8:13 am

Last week, Steve Keim talked about the sky falling after the loss to the Patriots. This week, the Cardinals’ General Manager played off the theme, noting that despite getting into the office before the sun was up Monday, “there didn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky.”

Such is the reaction after a 40-7 win Sunday. The vibe tends to be better. Mostly, Keim — during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 — saw positives, including the play of cornerback Marcus Cooper. It doesn’t hurt that Cooper was acquired for a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, a cheap price even if the Bucs’ performance ends up being Cooper’s best. Keim said Cooper was high on the Cards’ potential trade list in the preseason. (That includes not only scouting players, but also guesstimating what players teams might be willing to give up or cut at some point.)

Cooper has the length the Cards like and a “feel for the game,” Keim said.

“He’s just a savvy guy,” Keim said. “I don’t want to anoint him as the next coming of Deion Sanders quite yet, but at the same time, very excited with the way he played.”

— Keim said he was “still extremely high” on rookie cornerback Brandon Williams. He thought Williams played well Sunday in limited defensive snaps. “I have no concerns that Brandon won’t develop, but still, it’s nice to see competition at the position.”

— The only reason rookie DT Robert Nkemdiche was inactive Sunday was because of the ankle tweak he suffered late last week in practice, Keim said. He added Nkemdiche should be back this week.

— Right tackle D.J. Humphries played well, Keim said, and added that right guard Evan Mathis was the “epitome of a pro” for coming back from his foot/ankle injury.

— Keim liked the game nose tackle Xavier Williams played, as well as fellow nose tackle Corey Peters. Keim said moneybacker Deone Bucannon had an excellent game.

— Early in the game, Keim admitted he wanted the pass rush to get home more often, but felt that the pressure eventually started getting to Bucs QB Jameis Winston even without sacks, given how many passes of Winston came out high. “I thought Chandler (Jones) did a nice job being disruptive, even though it didn’t show up in the sack column until later in the game,” Keim said. “I think they got into Jameis’ head enough.”


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That’s-much-better Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2016 – 7:15 pm

Justin Bethel came flying down the field on the Cardinals’ second punt of the game and lit up return man Adam Humphries after a one-yard return, Bethel’s helmet flying off and Bethel emotionally jumping up and celebrating. Last week, Bruce Arians said Bethel had to decide if he wanted to play. This week? “He looked like Justin,” Arians said.

“It felt good to get back to my regular self, especially when it comes to special teams,” Bethel said. “I definitely felt I was myself, playing at the level I should be playing.”

Bethel might’ve been talking about everyone. The Cardinals had an off Week 1. You can talk about being overconfident or overhyped or too anxious or whatever, but the Cards clearly put that game in the rear view Sunday (Jimmy Garoppolo clearly showed this week it wasn’t a fluke of a game either, before he got hurt against the Dolphins.) It’s a week-to-week thing, and the Cards have to go cross country this week to play an early kickoff game in Buffalo. But for now, the ship has been righted. Pretty emphatically.

— Bethel said he predicted he’d have three special teams tackles in the game, and he had three tackles.

— Training camp MVP Jaron Brown was excellent Sunday. He had a huge 27-yard reception on third-and-10 that helped spark a touchdown drive (Michael Floyd’s one-yard TD catch) and, of course, hauled in the 51-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first half. With Floyd’s future in Arizona uncertain because of upcoming free-agent status, Brown (who will be an unrestricted free agent himself) is an intriguing option.

“All his catches seem to be in the biggest time of the game,” fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald said.

— Bruce Arians wasn’t happy that David Johnson ran the wrong route in the end zone, not only possibly costing the Cardinals a TD pass but nearly costing Carson Palmer an interception when Brent Grimes dropped the ball. Palmer, however, was forgiving of his star back. “He had just run like 90 yards and broke a bunch of tackles,” Palmer said. Close — it was right after Johnson’s awesome 58-yard catch-and-run into the red zone. “I was tired from just jogging down.”

— The Cardinals, after forcing five turnovers Sunday, are now a plus-7 after two games and have yet to turn the ball over. It won’t last — not like that — but it’s impressive.

— Don’t forget coming back out to University of Phoenix Stadium tomorrow for the weekly “Monday Nights at the Big Red Brew Haus” event. This week, running back David Johnson will be in the haus.

— Patrick Peterson’s first interception of the season, on a long bomb try from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans, had to make Fitzgerald proud. Peterson ended up behind Evans and then expertly kept his body up against Evans, cleanly squeezing Evans until the ball got over the 6-foot-5 Evans’ hands and into Peterson’s.

Of course, later Peterson could have had a second pick, but he dropped it. On the drive, the Bucs eventually scored on a TD pass to Evans over Peterson. “Usually when you drop an interception, bad s*** happens,” Arians said.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones got a sack in the waning moments, but he had a very quiet night. The Cardinals will need more QB pressure from him going forward.

— Arians wasn’t thrilled kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra point. I’m not sure of the snap on the play, but a later snap on another Cat Man kick looked a little low. Rookie Kam Canaday is going to be watched carefully after his opening game.

— After two games, no defender is playing better on the Cardinals than safety Tony Jefferson. He too is going to be a free agent after the season. Not sure what will happen with him, but he’s played excellent football.

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Nkemdiche out against Bucs; Mathis active

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2016 – 11:31 am

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, given the way Bruce Arians called him a “non-factor” in his debut and then having him pop up Friday on the injury report as questionable with an ankle problem, but first-round defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is inactive today for the Cardinals. Nkemdiche hurt his ankle before training camp even started and it’s possible he jacked it up again in practice.

While Nkemdiche flashed in a couple of practices, publicly Arians has continued to push the rookie. It’s beginning to feel a little like how Arians treated 2015 draft pick D.J. Humphries. Humphries, as we all know, was inactive all last season. The hope would be that Nkemdiche doesn’t fall into the same trap, although the depth the Cardinals have on the defensive line is there to be used if needed.

One slight surprise on the active players: Newcomer cornerback Tharold Simon is indeed active after being claimed Wednesday. How much of a role he has is TBD.

The full inactive list against the Buccaneers:

— WR J.J. Nelson (shoulder)

— S Marqui Christian

— G Cole Toner

— DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)

— DT Frostee Rucker (knee)

— LB Kareem Martin (knee)

— DT Olsen Pierre

And, apropos of nothing, the downside of losing the Bucket Challenge:


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Friday before the Buccaneers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2016 – 4:06 pm

Practice over for the week and the players going off to leave for the day, Bruce Arians said during his Friday media meeting he hoped the Cardinals would do a better job of mental preparation between then and kickoff Sunday against the Buccaneers. Asked what he could do in that regard, Arians didn’t hesitate.

“That’s their job, not mine,” he said. “I’ve already prepared them. That’s their homework.”

A little while later, linebacker Kevin Minter chuckled when that message was relayed. “He told you exactly what he told us,” Minter said. “Almost verbatim.”

“He has a point though,” Minter said. The linebacker said the practices last week — like this week — were excellent. Something got lost before kickoff in Week 1. Maybe it had to do with the emotions of the moment, with a Sunday night game, and the Patriots, and 9/11, and the season starting. “Not making excuses, but we had to calm it back down,” Minter said.

Did they?

“You get hit in the mouth like that, you better calm down,” Minter said.

Guess we’ll find out Sunday.

— So much is on the defense this week. They know they didn’t play as the should’ve last week (I’ve got the “10-for-16” burned in my brain at this point.) They face a much more dangerous passing offense in terms of explosion. They still have to find a way to go with work-in-progress Brandon Williams at cornerback. Can’t let Doug Martin get outside, but I think the Cards can handle the run game. Can they slow down Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson down the field? A couple of those TDs last week in Atlanta weren’t about bad coverage — it was Jameis Winston throwing to a tall receiver and that receiver making an incredible catch.

— The GMs in this game, Steve Keim and Jason Licht, are close friends. Wonder if there has been any trash-talking this week.

— It’ll probably be a week or two before new cornerback Tharold Simon is active for a game, but Arians said Marcus Cooper, the corner acquired in a trade a couple weeks ago, will “get action” this week. I assume that means on defense. Cooper played five special teams snaps against New England.

— The last time the Cardinals played the Bucs, it was in Tampa in 2013, the back end of a week away from Arizona. The Cardinals pulled out a late win against an inferior team because Patrick Peterson made two interceptions in the last four minutes of the game. (Why rookie QB Mike Glennon, in his first start, was throwing at that point no one knows.)

Peterson said he had forgotten about the circumstances until assistant athletic trainer Chad Cook brought it up. “Didn’t know that was in the last four minutes of the game,” Peterson said. “So that was pretty clutch.”

— Larry Fitzgerald now has 100 career touchdowns after his last one against the Pats. Fitz was asked where that TD ranks for him.

“Ranks 97 behind Jerry Rice,” Fitzgerald said. “So that puts it in perspective for me to keep working.”

As good as Fitz is, I don’t think he’s catching Rice.

— I think John Brown will be better this week than last. Not sure if he just needed a game to get the rust off, but I think you’ll see some Smoke this time. And I think the Cardinals need him.

— Peterson said the Cardinals will “definitely” bounce back after last week. “I’m not guaranteeing a win, but there is a different energy,” Peterson said. “I can feel the sense of urgency. … Good teams don’t lose twice (in a row).”

Bring on the Bucs.

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